Fealty to “diversity” and denunciations of white privilege have been a unifying theme in academia for decades, of course. What’s different this time is the sheer venom of the denunciations. College presidents and deans competed for the most sweeping indictment of the American polity, rooted in the claim that blacks are everywhere and at all times under threat.
“We are again reminded that this country’s 400-year history of racism continues to produce clear and present danger to the bodies and lives of Black people in every part of the United States,” wrote Ted Ruger, dean of the University of Pennsylvania law school. Amherst College president Carolyn “Biddy” Martin announced that the “virulent anti-black racism in this country has never NOT been obvious, and yet there are those who continue to deny it.” Martin was making a plea, she said, “to white people in particular, to acknowledge the reality of anti-black racism, its long history, and its current force; to recognize how embedded it is in our institutional structures, social systems, and cultural norms; and to assume our responsibility for ending it.” UCLA chancellor Gene Block declared that “racism permeates every sector of our society, from education to employment, from housing to health care, from board rooms to court rooms.” It was not just name-brand colleges that pumped out sweeping accusations. Queens University of Charlotte, North Carolina, for example, demanded that “our society, systems, and institutions” stop “treat[ing] black and brown Americans violently and perpetuat[ing] deep inequality.”
Some presidents hastily crafted a redo of their initial George Floyd statements after their first effort was deemed insufficiently damning of America. Middlebury College president Laurie Patton apologized for not focusing enough on the “root cause and specific harm” of the black community’s “profound pain” in her initial letter to the college. “I needed to name the specific and systemic violence experienced by Black people,” Patton said. “I now understand that members of our community needed to hear that.” Patton’s second effort took no chances. The Floyd death was the “result of centuries of entrenched racism in a nation built on and maintained by unjust and inequitable systems of power, including the policies and practices of law enforcement,” she wrote.